Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hi-fi Swords & Sorcery Art

So I love the lo-fi art, the works of hand-drawn, fan-drawn pictures that graced the covers of 'zines, and the pages of RPG books. I also understand that even back in the seventies and eighties, those weren't the sorts of things that made it on to professionally published publications. 

The thing about the professionally painted (or whatever) covers of that era is that they didn't look like they could be on a romance or airport thriller. They only thing a Michael Whelan or Frank Frazetta S&S cover could be was a S&S cover. The pulp roots showed thru, loudly and majestically.

Here's four sets of covers, chosen because I love the old one, and the thematic similarity of the new one. This is not a comment on the stories themselves. I've only read (and enjoyed) Robin Hobb's writing (though not the book shown). The others are names I know, but haven't crossed my desk or caught my attention. I just know they're popular and get some pretty good notices. 

Nonetheless, their books, at least these ones, have crappy covers. In no case would I buy the new book instead of the old one based on the cover. 


Sword-wielding women with visible skin. The first, though, also hints at the world and the existence of other characters. And the woman looks like she could kick your ass. The Brett woman is a pouty girl covered in henna tattoos and probably reeks of patchouli.
Note: I know Gates is really sci-fi, but the book is planetary adventure is cast from the same mold as S&S.


I don't hate the Sanderson cover, but it just can't compare to Hodgell's. The new cover's thief looks like she exists independently of an external world, just floating there. Hodgell's heroine exists in an urban landscape of tile, masonry, and strange figures fishing the streets below. It looks interesting, it's luring me inside with the promise of the strange and weird, not just some generic character.


Yeah, no. Death Angel's Shadow is my favorite Kane cover, rejecting the fur-loincloth depiction of the Frazetta Kane and making him look like the brooding, blue-eyed killer from the stories. Stover's guy looks like David Hasselhoff in a Neil Diamond's suit. 


Of all these new covers, this one's my favorite, and not because it's simply the least bad. I the tree limbs materializing through the falling snow, looking like monstrous growths from the warrior's back. Put up next to Whelan's Elric, though, you realize it could just as easily come be on a historical novel. There's nothing that really says "fantasy," let alone heroic fantasy. It doesn't help that his expression is bland. He's looking off to the left with a little Clint Eastwood squint, but no real visible emotion. Elric is downright scary. You can tell he's a threat and that he's facing down something right now. Then there's the elaborate detail of the ship's stern and the crowd of men behind Elric, almost cowering in fear from whatever he's preparing to kill.

If I was more aware of new fantasy I could probably do this all day. I think these four sets are enough to make my point. Sure, not scientifically, but enough. 


16 comments:

  1. Yep, I'm with you on this. Oh, and this, "...David Hasselhoff in a Neil Diamond's suit" had me in stitches

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  2. I think those are some kind of antlers on the Hobb cover, not tree limbs.

    That said, I think you have hit on something-- that older covers often convey a sense of place and of the character within that place-- three of the four at least. Although one could argue that the Stover cover has a nod to a sense of place. The Wagner has a certain appeal... it would look kinda goofy if it was a more realistic looking painting, so it has a lot of "feel" going for it.

    -Adrian S.

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    1. Looking more closely, I think you're right - which makes it cooler

      And you're right to say three out of four - The Kane cover doesn't do what I'm going on on about with the other three. It's also more stylized, and the floating skull-bed sheet lends a nice effect. The new covers are all about trying to achieve some sort of utter realism. In the first two, with only smoke in the background, they end up looking like outtakes from a lousy 80's video.

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  3. You've nailed it. I've lamented these trend for a long time.

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  4. Agree completely. I've gotten to the point where I won't consider a bookwhose cover is a sword weilding woman and nothing else. It just screams man-with-breasts, something I've gotten completely bored with.

    I think too many art directors try to make their cover look respectable when they should be going more for lurid. If you look at some of the most popular movies and TV shows, they're essentially pulp stories with better writing. That's what the average reader wants, too, a good, entertaining story first and foremost. The modern cover doesn't reflect that.

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    1. The man-with-breasts thing is probably worth its own long post.

      I agree re: tv, etc. being pulp. Most genre fiction roots are in pulp, but I think there are certain types of creators and consumers who don't want to admit that.

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  5. bought a book this weekend - Conan The Renegade. One, because I even enjoy the Conan pastiches, Two, I was fairly certain I didn't own it already (it's always a 50-50 bet) and three, for the cover art. Even the pastiche cover art is better than all the new big-budget books coming out these days.
    Fantasy is trying to draw fans by not being fantasy - it makes me mad.

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    1. I know that cover - pretty dynamic. The artist, Kirk Reinert, has done a wide array of cover types over the years, some very good, some pretty awful. When he's good, like with Renegade, he's really good.

      http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?25686

      I enjoyed the original de Camp/Carter pastiches, and KEW's is one of his own best novels. Tried to read one of Jordan's once and couldn't make it past the first chapter.

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  7. Check out the vintage fantasy artwork at this blog...

    http://capnscomics.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2016-04-22T23:09:00-07:00&max-results=7&start=35&by-date=false

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  8. Good comparisons. Of course I agree wholeheartedly!

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  9. Thank you. I love the new website design and am looking forward with great anticipation to the next book.

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  10. Try being an illustrator in this field now. Everybody wants a crapy photo with photoshop filters dropped over it. Art Directors want 'classy' covers now. It's sad and a shame, a lot of great art will never get seen and ultimately it'll hurt the field.
    gary
    https://www.behance.net/gmccluskey

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    1. You make me want to cry/shout/puke.

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